2004: PGA campaign beckons fans to play the game

By Mike Mazur

Play Golf America, the marketing initiative spearheaded by the PGA of America to increase participation among new and occasional adult golfers, launched its national advertising campaign during broadcasts of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour events last week.

Developed by Austin, Texas-based ad agency GSD&M, the spots revolve around the concept that “Golf is calling” and incorporate an entertaining mix of everyday people with celebrities, including comedians Ray Romano and George Lopez. The primary target: the estimated 17 million Americans who do not play but express an interest, as well as 14 million people defined as “occasional” golfers – those who play between one and seven times per year.

“Golf has never been more popular,” said PGA president M.G. Orender, citing an estimated 100 million golf spectators in America. “So the fact that participation has been down doesn’t really make sense.”

Play Golf America aims to change that, and the television campaign is a key part of the plan. Consisting of two spots, the campaign is scheduled to run more than 500 times during 2004 golf broadcasts. The PGA estimated the value of this campaign is $12 million.

A major objective of the ads is to drive traffic to playgolfamerica.com, where consumers can search for participating facilities in their area that offer "grow-the-game" programs. Thirteen programs are offered, including those for beginners, families and women. More than 3,400 facilities are participating, and more than 4,700 PGA professionals have signed up for May’s Free Lesson Month program.

Orender envisions Play Golf America spurring grass-roots initiatives at the local level, such as nine-hole leagues, and he likens the campaign to efforts that grew golf during down times in participation in the 1970s and ’80s.

“Frankly, what grew the game in those times was league play,” said Orender, “and from that, you created 18-hole players. And their children came with them to the golf course, and they became golfers.”

The launch of the campaign coincides with recent reports of growing participation and increased golf equipment sales.

Research firm Golf Datatech LLC reported broad sales gains for nearly all golf product categories during February. And for the first quarter of 2004, the National Golf Foundation reported a 5.3 percent increase in rounds played compared with the same period a year ago.

The NGF also reported an 11 percent spike in the average number of rounds “per play day” – or days when weather permitted play. According to the NGF, this measurement makes for a better comparison by removing improvements in rounds simply because better weather provided more playing opportunities.

While early indicators are promising, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association reported for 2003 a 1.8 percent decline in number of golfers. Likewise, the National Sporting Goods Association reported a 5.4 percent drop.

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